"If a man fools you once, he's a jerk. If he fools you twice, you're a jerk." – Unknown
Steve Martin played a perfect one. Ex-wives think they were married to one. And now, disgruntled Cincinnati Bengals fans worried that their impressionable children are in danger of learning the birds and bees from a drunken, shirtless fan with man boobs, can call a hotline designed for one. Yep, I'm talking about jerks. We may not be able to escape them, but now Paul Brown Stadium patrons can contain them.
Reading the jerk line story last week, all I could do was laugh. We've all been to football games, whether college or pro, and experienced "jerkdom" in all its boorish glory. Heck, many of us, possibly unknowingly, facilitated jerk-like actions in an altered state. It's part of the football atmosphere. If Rudi Johnson loses your fantasy game by fumbling at the goal-line, he deserves to be showered with insults. The belligerent, curse-laden, drink-till-you-realize-woofing-down-those-nachos-after-beer-seven-was-a-bad-idea drunk is obnoxious, expected and, at times, hilarious. The Bengals can try to clean it up all they want, but as long as the beer flows, people will do and say inappropriate things.
I think the Bengals front office has a revolutionary idea. Think about it. What if we had a jerk line for fantasy football? What in-game situations would be worthy of a call? I'm glad you asked. Here are my top-five reasons to dial that jerk number:
5. Sideline reporters give you little to no information about a star player's injury status.
4. You lose your fantasy game because of a stupid kicker.
3. A terrible holding call wipes out a 50-yard touchdown run from your stud back.
2. On third and a mile, your quarterback hands the ball off for a two-yard gain.
1. Your marquee back gets pulled at the goal-line so some beefy schmuck can steal away a touchdown.
Only in fantasy can Brandon Jacobs be hated so much.
THE SPINMEISTER FIVE
Not only a great name for an early 90s alternative rock band, the Spinmeister combs through volumes of print to bring you the five most intriguing training camp morsels each week.
1. Portis Skinned
Flamboyant Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis injured his right shoulder in his preseason opener on August 13 against Cincinnati. The injury was diagnosed as a partial dislocation, known as a subluxation, which causes the ball in the shoulder joint to slip out, resulting in pain and weakness. Washington head coach Joe Gibbs said, "I think the feeling from Dr. Andrews and everyone here that has looked at him is that it will be something that will be sore. As soon as we get the soreness out of there, we feel he can start rehabbing. We would hope he will be ready for the opener. It will be up to Clinton and everyone working with him, but that's generally what Dr. Andrews and the doctors here concur after seeing everything." Out for the rest of the preseason, Portis will undoubtedly be "questionable" for the season opener on September 11.
Spin: Let the overreaction begin. Just a few minutes after the Portis debacle transpired, my inbox was bombarded by concerned owners worried about their team's main attraction. My response: Did you handcuff?
Fifth-year backup Ladell Betts instantly becomes a very hot commodity with Portis possibly sidelined for the first week or two of the season. The 5-foot-10, 223-pound Betts is an excellent receiver out of the backfield that also possesses the inside power and speed necessary to be an effective 20-plus carry back. Although he has averaged a loathsome 3.8 yards-per-carry since 2003, Betts has shown spurts of fantasy productivity, rushing for 92 yards on 12 carries against the woeful 49ers in Week 7 last year. The Redskins face a tough Minnesota Vikings frontline in Week 1 that allowed a stiff 91.7 rushing yards-per-game a year ago and who limited boss hog LaMont Jordan to 21 yards on six carries on Monday night. If Portis were in street clothes Week 1, count on Betts only as a No. 3 back. Betts owners in non-handcuff situations, who have adequate running back depth, may want to turn a profit and dangle the backup to a Portis owner willing to prostitute themselves for his services.
For those of you that have yet to draft, relax. When injuries like this arise in the preseason many owners tend to tar and feather a player too quickly, thinking that the setback is much worse than it really is. At this point, the only player that leapfrogs the Washington wig connoisseur is Tiki Barber. If you are sitting in the sixth spot or later and Portis falls onto your lap, take the money and run. Barring additional injuries he is still an elite, top-five fantasy back this season in an Al Saunders system that can generate beefy fantasy numbers.
2. Burning Bush
Electric New Orleans Saints rookie runner Reggie Bush had six carries for 59 yards and two catches for 10 yards in his preseason debut against the Tennessee Titans. Saints quarterback Drew Brees was very impressed with the number two pick's initial effort, stating, "Reggie's a physical player. I think he wants to make sure people know that he'll run them over, too. He's got that burst, or that gear, that a lot of people probably don't know about yet. But they'll figure it out." Bush's next game will be on a national stage on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys.
Spin: Sound the alarm. The Reggie Bush big hype machine has reached DefCon-5. Call me a hater, but I'm still not buying on the biggest thing to hit fantasy football since Al Gore's invention of the internet. I'll admit, the 44-yard cut-back scamper down the sideline against the Titans was nothing short of jaw-dropping and the aggressiveness he displayed was eye-opening, but its only a quarter and a half of preseason football people. Remember, the Tennessee defense ranked 22nd against the run in 2005 and Deuce McAllister did not see a single snap.
Don't get me wrong, Bush is a very gifted athlete who oozes with long-term potential, but for yearly leagues, he is not worth the late-second, early third-round pick that many fantasy publications and sites have pegged the Heisman winner to be. Why?
1. Deuce McAllister will be the goal-line back, forcing Bush to break long runs to find pay-dirt. With only 10-12 carries-per-game, he's not going to rack 40-plus yard runs at will.
2. At USC, Bush had arguably the best offensive line in college football. Last season, the Saints only had 10 rushes of 20 or more yards and allowed 33 sacks, the fourth highest in the NFC. Brees should help, but they are an average line at best.
3. The New Orleans schedule is hellacious. The NFC South boasts two of the best run defenses in the league in the Panthers and Buccaneers. They allowed a combined 93.1 yards-per-game in '05. The Saints play each team twice and also face the New York Giants, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington and Dallas – all of whom finished in the Top-15 in rushing defense a year ago.
The gold-cleated one should only be considered a low-tiered No. 3 back. If your league scores bonus points for receptions you might want to bump him up your list a few spots, but otherwise stick with a Chester Taylor, Willie Parker, or Warrick Dunn at that point of the draft in yearly leagues. I may eat crow by year's end, but the sensationalized mainstream media love-child will not surpass 1,100 total yards and three-to-five touchdowns this season.
3. Clipped Eagle
Versatile Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook will likely be sidelined the remainder of the preseason because of a sprained left foot he suffered against Oakland on August 6. Head coach Andy Reid noted, ""Brian is getting better every day. The swelling is out of the foot, but again, it's going to take a little bit of time. He stretched the ligaments in there a bit and sprained the foot, so we've got to wait until that heals. He definitely won't be ready this week and it will be a struggle for him to get back next week. If he didn't play in another preseason game, then that's the way it goes. I don't want to risk any further injury on that thing. I want to make sure it's healed and healed right." The Eagles open the 2006 season at Houston on September 10.
Spin: An MVP candidate on my all-futon team (Most Versatile RB), Westbrook might be the most underappreciated starting running back in fantasy drafts this year. With a Y! ADP of 25.6, the league's most consistent receiving back is a bargain basement steal. Over the past three seasons, Westbrook has averaged 94 total yards-per-game, nine touchdowns and a stout 4.5 yards-per-carry. A monster in points-per-reception leagues, his 57 receptions-per-year average since 2003 ranks him third behind behemoths Ladanian Tomlinson and Tiki Barber. Last year, playing on an offense devastated by injuries, he still managed to have eight games of 100 or more total yards in just 12 starts. Although diminutive in stature, the pint-sized Westbrook is an open-field nightmare for defenders with his razor-sharp cuts and masterful elusiveness.
The injury setback will scare away many fretful fantasy owners, but don't ignore him if you have a mid-Round 2 pick. Although Reid will limit his touches to around 15 carries per game, his flexibility as a dual threat makes Westbrook a consistent 10-to-12 points-per-week contributor in standard performance leagues. With a soft early schedule, a healthy McNabb and a questionable receiving corps, he could post potent numbers out of the gate. For now, anticipate finishing totals around 70 receptions, 1,400 total yards and 8-10 scores. Also, don't forget about fleet-footed backup Ryan Moats late. Westbrook has missed an average of 2.6 games-per-season as a starter.
4. Maroney is M-O-N-E-Y
Rookie dynamo Laurence Maroney outshined teammate Corey Dillon in his NFL debut against a suspect Atlanta front, rushing for 66 yards on nine carries. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was very impressed with Maroney's first game stating, "I thought Laurence did some good things. I think there are still a lot of things that he needs to work on. He can be better and he has worked hard. He's very conscientious and diligent. I like his approach to the game." Dillon also performed well rushing for 27 yards on five carries. The Patriots face the Arizona Cardinals this Saturday.
Spin: Maroney is a rebel with a cause. Mimicking Steven Jackson in hair style and demeanor, the Pats first round choice was a yards-after-contact battering ram, gaining 55 of his 66 yards after initial contact last Saturday. Known as one of the best one-cut backs in last April's draft, he has extraordinary physical tools and plays in a system that should blast him into superstardom no later than 2007. The always vague Belichick has alluded to possibly utilizing Maroney as an in-game refresher for Dillon, likely giving the rookie roughly 10-12 touches per game. With more August performances like that, he would be stupid not to.
Before you shoot the former Golden Gopher up your draft board, remember Dillon is the unquestioned starter. Missed in the Maroney-inspired puddle of drool last Saturday, the wily Dillon was equally as effective, plowing over defenders with a fire that lacked a season ago. As long as he remains healthy, he will be the primary option in Foxboro, especially at the goal-line. For now, look at the talented Maroney in the same view as Joseph Addai, a rising star that is just one buckled-knee away from being a top-tiered No. 2. With a deceiving Y! ADP of 103.2, realistically it will take a Round 7 pick to get him on your roster.
5. The Tuna Loves his Barber
Open up the Barber shop. Fantasy Hellraiser Bill Parcells said on August 10 that the Cowboys will implement a "multi-back system." The Big Tuna added, "In this day and age, having a multiple-back system, if you have the talent to do it, is advantageous to your team. I'd always been a coach that had a lead back and a supplemental carrier. And then sometimes I had the advantage of having a third-down guy, too. There were always three guys in the mix every week." Parcells went on to say that Barber will "have a major role on this team." The second-year back had seven carries for 20 yards against Seattle on August 12.
Spin: For Julius Jones owners, Marion Barber is a nettlesome case of herpes that will never go away. When Jones was sidelined with a high ankle sprain last year, Barber's 222 yards and two touchdowns in Weeks 7 and 8 left an indelible mark on Parcells. Over the remainder of the season, Barber wrestled away goal-line touches in Weeks 10 and 11 and averaged a respectable 9.5 carries-per-game. Because of Jones' fumble-laden past and injury concerns – he has missed 11 of 32 career games – he was the subject of many trade rumors in the offseason and continues to be a source of disdain for Parcells. Jones has the skills set to be a dependable No. 2 fantasy back, but with Barber's backing from the Tuna, he is headed for another season of frustration. Currently, the 13th back taken in Yahoo! drafts, Jones is horribly overvalued. Select a more dependable Warrick Dunn or Reuben Droughns a round or two later and let someone else deal with the anguish.
As for Barber, he will likely be the go-to-guy inside the 10 again this season and will see an expanded role on third downs. He has the elusiveness and open-field speed to be a consistent top-of-the-line starter in the inevitable event Jones is forced to the sideline. One of the better draft day discounts with an ADP around pick No. 100, let this Cowboy drive your opponents off the ranch as a No. 4 bursting with upside. My prediction: Barber nets three-to-five starts this season, six-to-eight touchdowns and will head into 2007 as the permanent starter.
CHEAT SHEET HEAT
Who should you move up your rankings? What impact will injuries have on player values? Which Cincinnati Bengal will get tasered next and become undraftable? The heat gives you the gridiron dish on the volatile fantasy football player market.
Ahman Green, GB, RB – Last Week RB Rank:27This Week: 26
The grass is getting Green-er for Packer fans. The four-time Pro Bowler participated in his first full workout on Monday and has his eyes set for a return to the lineup on August 28. Green Bay has a very favorable schedule facing the likes of New Orleans, San Francisco and St. Louis, but their offensive line will have to step it up for Green to make a splash as a No. 2 on fantasy teams. If he can play 14 or more games anticipate numbers around 1200 total yards and six-to-eight touchdowns.
Phillip Rivers, SD, QB – Last Week QB Rank: 24, This Week: 22
Skeptics concerned about Rivers' quirky delivery and leadership skills might have seen a glimpse of what his true ceiling really is after his 15-for-21, 169 yard, one touchdown performance against Green Bay. At this point, he is more attractive than David Carr or Billy Volek with LT and Antonio Gates as his main targets. Totals around 210 YPG and 18-22 TDs are not unfathomable from this high upside No. 2.
Hank Baskett, Phi, WR – Last Week WR Rank: NR, This Week: 56
A tisket, a tasket, look out for Hank Baskett. The 6-foot-4, 220 pound undrafted rookie from New Mexico has created quite a buzz in Eagles camp. Former Philly quarterback and NFL analyst Ron Jaworski believes, "he could be the biggest story in the NFL this season." In two preseason games, Baskett has three catches for 46 yards. Historically, No. 2 wide receivers in Andy Reid's offense have not been fantasy giants, but 50 receptions, 700 yards and three-to-five touchdowns cannot be ruled out if he can hang onto a starting job. In '05, the Eagles averaged the third-highest pass attempts in the league with 38.8 per game. Snag him in the midnight hour of your draft in deep PPR formats.
Brian Griese, Chi, QB – Last Week QB Rank: 43, This Week: 39
After going 6-for-7 for 134 yards and two touchdowns, Bears fans are already naming sausage products after Griese. Current starter Rex Grossman appears to be on thin ice with Lovie Smith after completing just 27 percent of his passes in the preseason opener. If he doesn't improve, Griese will walk away from camp as the Week 1 starter. Can we bring back Jim McMahon already?
Bryant Johnson, Ari, WR – Last Week WR Rank: 54, This Week: 52
With Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin on the field, Johnson was Kurt Warner's main target in the Cardinals preseason opener. The fourth-year receiver caught three passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. Kurt Warner has talked highly of Johnson in camp and believes he could be targeted more this season. However, with the dynamic Fitzgerald-Boldin duo it remains unlikely he will accumulate anything more than 50 receptions, 550 yards and three-to-four-touchdowns, unless an injury opens a door. Keep his name in mind in very deep PPR leagues.
LaMont Jordan, Oak, RB – Last Week RB Rank:8 This Week: 10
The Bay Area bowling ball hit the gutter in his first two preseason games. With blind dart thrower Aaron Brooks completing a pathetic three passes in 15 attempts, Jordan's numbers have suffered. So far, Jordan has averaged a paltry 3.2 yards-per-carry on 15 carries. If the poor play of the Oakland O-line and passing game overflows into the regular season, his totals could disappoint. Mark him down a couple of spots.
Domanick Davis, Hou, RB – Last Week RB Rank: 12, This Week: 15
Davis' recent injury news deserves a knee-jerk reaction. Double-D continues to experience swelling in his left knee and Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is undecided whether he will be active Week 1. Davis did run on a treadmill on Monday and claimed to have felt no soreness, but there is still no timetable set for his return. Antowain Smith remains the primary backup on the Texans depth chart, but keep an eye on rookie Wali Lundy. The Virginia product had 59 yards and a touchdown on nine carries against Kansas City's first-string defense.
Fred Taylor, Jax, RB – Last Week RB Rank: 29, This Week: 32
On August 10, Jags head coach Jack Del Rio left the door open for Greg Jones to possibly supplant Taylor as the starter, or at least create a timeshare with a strong preseason. Taylor totaled 33 yards and Jones 25 yards in the exhibition opener. Fragile Fred has missed seven games in the past two years and will likely get swallowed whole by a turf monster no later than Week 10. At some point this season, Jones will be the primary carrier. Bank on it.
Koren Robinson, Min, WR – Last Week WR Rank:24 This Week: NR
Poor K-Rob just can't figure out all 12 steps of the AA program. On Tuesday night, Robinson was arrested for driving under the influence and fleeing from police, a felony. It's an all too familiar tale for Robinson, who was suspended for four games in 2004 for violating the league's substance abuse policy and was released by Seattle in June of '05 following an arrest in May of that year. The latest jump off the wagon could suspend Robinson for the remainder of the season. At this point, move him way down your cheat sheets and bump up Marcus Robinson, Travis Taylor and Troy Williamson.
Brandon Stokely, Ind, WR – Last Week WR Rank:52 This Week: 54
The man nicknamed "White Lightning" could miss Week 1 after spraining his left ankle in practice last Sunday. The Colts open the 2006 season on the road against the Giants, who had the sixth worst pass defense in the NFL allowing 224 yards-per-game. Veteran Aaron Moorehead could be a nice sleeper play in wide receiver heavy leagues if Stokley is inactive.
UNLEASH THE BEAST
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Willis McGahee? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
I've been playing fantasy football for about four years now and every year I read a column in which someone tells me that if I draft Player X I also "need" to draft Player X's backup. I don't understand the reasoning behind this. I do understand the reason to have quality reserves sitting on your bench, but that does not mean that if I draft Clinton Portis in the first round, then I absolutely need to draft Ladell Betts at some point in the ensuing 14 rounds.
Basically, I think the "need" to draft Player X's backup is only there if you're playing in a really deep league, one with more than 12 teams in it. But if you're talking 12 teams or less, NO WAY would I waste a valuable draft pick on a player who isn't even starting for his own team. That's precisely why the waiver wire of most Yahoo! leagues is cluttered with pretty good players – they're all backups and in a standard Yahoo! 12-team league. The only chance those guys have to get off the waiver wire is if there's an injury, or a sudden by-week emergency.
Draft starters for your backups – not backups
– Bruce N.
Noise: Hey Bruce, how does your foot taste? Salty?
As beleaguered Portis owners already know, it's imperative to super-glue a star running back to his backup. I agree with you that hog-tying is not appropriate in all cases, but most standard 12-team leagues are plenty deep enough for you to employ the cuffing method. For those of you confused by all of this shackle mess, here are a few handcuffing rules to live by:
1. High investment backs need an insurance policy
If you use a high draft choice or spend a large chunk of cash on a workhorse, it's common sense to protect your treasured keepsake, especially if he has a history of injuries. Based on ADP numbers, an average of six top-15 backs have missed at least two games per season since 2003. As history has repeated time-and-time again when a marquee plowshare breaks down his backup can carry a fantasy team in unforeseen ways. Dominic Rhodes in 2000, Nick Goings in 2004 and Marion Barber and Larry Johnson in 2005 are just a few reasons why handcuffing is a necessary evil. In many cases, all it takes is one bad fantasy game for you to make or break your playoff destiny. Would you trust Maurice Clarett not to get into trouble with a bottle of Grey Goose and a gun license? No. And you shouldn't bank on your star back playing 16 games either.
2. If you confide in a "twofer" back, make sure you snag the second in command.
Questionable running quandaries in Chicago, Denver, Green Bay and Indianapolis are situations where fantasy owners will have to employ two-for-one tactics to lock up starting gigs. For example, according to Yahoo! ADP values, Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes have gone back-to-back in Rounds 10 and 11 respectively. In this case, the two-for-one handcuff has to be implemented in order to put a stranglehold on the Colts backfield job. Sure, you could have the utmost confidence in Addai, but why not try and deadbolt the situation?
3. Wrap your star in a security blanket and avoid selecting a second tight end, kicker and/or defense late
Even in the deepest of leagues you can always find waiver wire bye-week fillers for the secondary fantasy positions. Having a backup kicker, tight end and/or defense is more ridiculous than thinking a Wesley Snipes Demolition Man Mohawk is stylish. Right, Chad Johnson?
4. There is no need to handcuff any other position besides RB
In general, starting quarterbacks and wide receivers are a dime a dozen on waivers in conventional 12-team leagues. This means you can avoid wasting a roster spot for the likes of an Anthony Wright or Mike Williams and chase running back depth. That is, unless you play in a two quarterback league that starts five receivers.
Remember, if you shun the ball-and-chain theory, you'll be the inebriated Larry Johnson owner running around in rags screaming, "Why me?!" after you didn't draft Michael Bennett. For sake of Priest Holmes, play it smart. Always carry a pair of handcuffs.